The Labor Ministry has begun to enforce a long-neglected law that requires foreigners employed in Cambodia to have work permits, according to ministry officials.
Teams of inspectors have begun scouring the country to ensure that foreign employees and businesspeople have the proper documentation, with employers and workers facing hefty fines in the event that they are not certified.
Fines will also be applied retroactively to offenders, according to Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor.
“If the inspection teams find that [foreigners] do not have a work permit they will face a fine of up to 720,000 riel [about $177] and will have to pay back $100 for each year of missed pay,” Mr. Suor said.
He added that paid NGO workers would be part of the audit, while the Labor Law stipulates that employees of foreign embassies are exempt from the rule.
An August 16 joint statement issued by the ministries of Interior and Labor warned that institutions that employ foreigners are obligated to ensure that employees have relevant visas, passports and work permits.
The statement is backed by a 1995 prakas entitled “The Management of Foreigners’ Work Permits,” which states that all foreigners employed in the country should possess either a temporary or permanent work permit.
Seng Sakada, director-general of the Labor Ministry’s labor department, affirmed Wednesday that the directives would be enforced and that foreigners who have been working illegitimately in Cambodia for long periods of time could face substantial fines.
“Yes, in general they will have to back pay but we will see their documents first before making decision,” Mr. Sakada said.
“The law never makes exceptions. You can’t come here to work and then say you don’t have a work permit.”
According to the prakas, to obtain a permanent work permit, foreigners must present at a provincial or municipal police station with a valid passport, three extra passport photos and proof of a deposit into a local bank.
For a temporary permit, foreigners need all of the above—minus the bank deposit—as well as a valid visa, a certificate of health from their home country, and copies of employment contracts and insurance policies.
Mr. Sakada said that applications should be lodged at the local department of employment and manpower.
Across the country, however, expatriates say they have been caught unaware by the law, which has been enforced arbitrarily and sporadically since it was conceived.
According to an online message board of the Commercial News, a Chinese-language local newspaper, a number of Chinese nationals have been subjected to the arbitrary nature of the enforcement of the law.
One commentator, Duo La, said that following an August 12 article—where Sok Phal, head of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, warned the Chinese Embassy of the coming enforcement—she went to the Labor Ministry to apply for a permit.
There, she said, she was told that on top of the $100 for each year in Cambodia, she was also required to pay $410 in administrative costs and $280 to officials who arranged the process for her.
A number of embassies were also unclear about the law and its implementation when asked this week. Others, however, issued strong statements on the matter.
On Monday, the French Embassy posted to its website that its nationals should only pay for a 2014 work permit, as the immigration department had indicated that the enforcement would not be retroactive.
At the South Korean Embassy, the message was not so clear.
“We do not know much about the current status of Koreans that are here, whether they have the appropriate work permits or not,” South Korean Ambassador Kim Han-soo said.
“We will not be putting out warnings, it’s an issue with the Cambodian authorities, not the South Korean Embassy.”
(Additional reporting by Chan Cheuk Yin)